Charles Hayter was born in Twickenham in 1761. At the age of twenty-four he entered the Royal Academy schools and went on to forge a career as a portraitist and tutor (he taught ‘perspective’ to Princess Charlotte). In 1813 he published an ‘Introduction to Perspective’, where he noted the influence of the pastellist Russell on his work (‘chiefly very small portraits…generally on vellum’). As seen in the present portrait, he liked his vellum to have a ‘soft, velvet-like nap’. He seems to have lived rather frugally in a rather tawdry part of Soho (in his ‘Dictionary of Pastellists before 1800’, Neil Jeffares notes that his street included the prostitute, Mrs. Hindes’s, residence). He seems to have had an agreeable personality, recorded in the diary of Crabb Robinson as ‘self-educated…[who] blends humour with all he says’. His marriage to Martha Stevenson in 1788 produced three children, all of whom became artists (including Sir Charles Hayter b.1792).
The present portrait shows Hayter adapting his style to encompass the new craze for the Neoclassical fashions. The profile portrait and sitter’s muslin dress would have been extremely fashionable in the early 1800s. By this date many miniaturists were also offering their clientele larger portraits, either in graphite or crayons, which were hung on the wall and moved away from the miniature as an item of jewellery.